Shaking a Big Fist at Fidel

Cuban-Americans in Florida try to help the US keep up the pressure on Cuba's long-time leader

FOR the first time in the 35 years of Cuban President Fidel Castros Ruz's rule, an angry mob, openly defiant of police and shouting anti-government slogans, took to a few streets in Havana on Aug. 5.

News of the event electrified Miami and its large Cuban exile community. Many believed that Mr. Castro's control over Cuba had finally cracked and that a movement was afoot similar to the ones that swept away the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

And when the Cuban leader responded to the disturbances by allowing discontented Cubans to leave for the United States, the leadership of the Cuban-American community in Miami responded that Castro should not be allowed to use that ``safety valve,'' as he did 14 years ago.

In April 1980, faced with discontent among his citizens, Castro opened the port of Mariel and invited Cuban exiles in the US to come and pick up their relatives. When Castro closed the door five months later, 125,266 Cubans had arrived in Florida in what became know as the ``Mariel boatlift.''

This time, though, Cuban-American leaders want the US to impose enough pressure on Cuba to force a large-scale revolt against Castro.

The cost of absorbing legal and illegal migrants in Florida since 1980 has piled up to $2.53 billion. Florida's Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, has sued the federal government, which is solely responsible for immigration, to recover some of the money.

Much of the state money spent on refugees during the Mariel boatlift has not been repaid. The governor is therefore opposed to a massive influx of refugees.

President Clinton has obliged the views of Miami's Cuban Americans and canceled a 28-year-old preferential treatment that fleeing Cubans had received from the US. The president then put an end to transfers of money to Cuba from exiles in the US. Charter flights from Miami to Havana were also scrapped.

Next, the exile community wanted the US to impose a naval blockade around Cuba similar to the one around Haiti. ``If you're going to have a Haitian immigration policy for Cubans, you should also have a Haitian foreign policy for Cubans,'' says Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) of Florida, a Cuban American.

But few believe that a naval blockade of Cuba can be accomplished. Some 80 countries now have good relations with Castro. Also, the US would have a hard time persuading the United Nations Security Council to blockade Cuba. The US, of course, can blockade Cuba without permission from the UN. But that would amount to an act of war, said US Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Instead of taking the advice of many Cuban Americans, Clinton decided to hold talks with Cuba to bring an end to the refugee flow and to solve the problem of what to do with nearly 40,000 refugees at the US naval base on Guantanamo Bay, on the western tip of Cuba, and at a detention center in Miami, and other facilities in Texas.

So far, the Cuban exile political leadership is standing by Clinton. But some warn that if the president considers lifting the 32-year-old economic boycott on Cuba, there will be ``violent acts of civil disobedience'' here.

The exile community has grown restless with these events, and protests have sprung up in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. On Sept. 4, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the offices of a magazine that called for the US to negotiate fully with Castro.

The Cuban government badly wants the embargo lifted, blaming the refugee crises on the embargo for making it difficult to restructure a Communist-led economy that has lost its subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Analysts say the Cuban leader has a core of die-hard supporters, perhaps 20 to 30 percent of his citizens.

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